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Video: Why men go bald

TODAY
updated 6/2/2005 10:01:39 AM ET 2005-06-02T14:01:39

There are about 100,000 to 150,000 hairs on the human scalp, and most guys want to keep them right where they are.  However, many of them can’t. Male pattern baldness affects 40 million men in the U.S., and a quarter of them start going bald by age 30. In this three-part series, “Today” looks at how baldness happens, and why it matters.

Sex, power, privilege and youth are all images that go hand-in-hand with men and their hair.

“It’s extremely important — right up there with food, water, family,” said one man.

“I would look into any and all means possible to retain my hair,” said another man.

Hairstyles are an expression of the man underneath the locks. And if the hair goes, often confidence and self-esteem are quick to follow.

But women aren’t always as focused on male baldness as the men themselves. What do they say? 

“For me, a man with a bald head looks sexy,” said one woman.

“The hair is not important to me. It's what's inside that counts,” said another woman.

But that's not stopping many men from working on their outsides as well.  From hair transplants to non-surgical techniques, the follicular fight rages on.

Why does it happen?  Androgenetic alopecia — otherwise known as male pattern baldness — is caused by the presence of a male hormone known as DHT, a bi-product of testosterone, which strikes unsuspecting hair follicles.

“It's a combination of androgens, which is DHT, and genetics, which you get from both your mother and your father,” said Dr. Ivan Cohen, an associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale University School of Medicine.

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Like other genetic traits, hair loss can strike one brother in a family and not the other. Short of surgery, and two medications, there are no FDA-approved treatments for this type of hair loss.

“What happens in male pattern hair loss is that the growing cycle becomes shorter so the hair does not grow as long as it once did. It becomes finer, and eventually the growth cycle is eliminated,” said Cohen.

“The stated causes of baldness have changed during various eras. For example unclean living, going to prostitutes, excessive masturbation, stress,” said Gersh Kuntzman, the author of “Hair: Mankind's Historic Quest to End Baldness.”

“The ancient Romans started the whole use of hot pepper in products on the head. The reason being, you put it on and your head would sting, and you'd think, ‘Oh, it's working.’ ”

In an effort to make the most out of what they do have, some men have embraced the infamous comb-over technique, a subject explored in the independent documentary "Combover, The Movie."

“When you realize your hair is thinning, it's terrible. A lot of guys just can't deal with it,” said Rodney Cutler, Esquire magazine's grooming editor. He says the right hairstyle can make all the difference. “It's OK to have short, thinning hair as long as it looks stylish and strong.”

And for those who want to embrace baldness, Kuntzman says today's their day.  “A lot of people like to credit Michael Jordan with being one of the greatest basketball players ever. But for bald men, this guy is the icon. This is the guy who started the golden age for bald men, which is right now. You don't have to let society define you as a bald man. You can be bald, virile and sexy.”

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints

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